Talking about my musical past always seems to involve Michael Jackson, so I figured I’d go in that direction in a little more detail. The King of Pop wasn’t really in my line of sight musically until the 80’s. I remember “Rock With You” from the late 70s, and it really holds up well with time. But like so many others in the early 80s, “Thriller” won me over, despite it’s first single, the sickeningly saccharine “The Girl Is Mine”, which makes me a little nauseous just thinking about it. The moment I knew that music was not just entertainment, but an art form, was watching “Motown 25” on a Sunday night, when Michael busted out in a big way:
(If you want the abbreviated version, just go to 4:06 of the clip. You’ll know it when you see it.)
That moment blew me away. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened, which is pretty amazing, considering I barely paid attention to the rest of the show. It was on like Donkey Kong from there. I bought the LP, and I wore that bad boy out! Even the fold-out cover fascinated me. But even better than the packaging was the music. With the exception of “Baby Be Mine”, which I would argue is the ONLY B-side on the album, and “The Girl Is Mine”, every song was amazing. Even the non-released “Lady In My Life” is now a classic, and among my favorite songs of all time.
While I enjoyed the more pop tracks on the album, including “Beat It” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, it was the R&B-leaning tracks that captured my impressionable musical attention. “Human Nature” and “PYT”, as well as “Lady In My Life”, were the heart of this record, and despite his attempts to capture that lightning in a bottle in following releases (I’d argue “Dangerous” was the R&B compensation to the pop leanings of “Bad”), he’s never hit the R&B trifecta again.
So how did “Thriller” change my life? Well, I never looked at music the same way again, literally. The videos he created for this album were spectacular at the time, and raised the bar for the entire industry in the process. “Thriller” also helped bring out my R&B tendencies. Artists like Rene & Angela, the Dazz Band, Prince and Five Star would have had a much harder time hitting my radar if I hadn’t been prepared for them by the R&B influence of this record.
More than anything, though, was a realization to I needed to be open to other types of music, and that has served me well over the years. Granted, I didn’t have to work at “Thriller”, since it was everywhere at the time. There is no such thing as a purely-born musical genre these days. Everything evolves from something else. And if you look at the last 25 years, I think you’ll find a lot of the music to come out of that timeframe evolved from “Thriller”.
I’ll leave you with a live version of “Human Nature” from the Victory tour in 1984. No matter what you think of his stage presence, I doubt you can argue with the song being classified as a classic.